Pedersen, within a single trip, is on a mission to visit all countries in the world, without taking a single flight.
Pedersen is only nine countries away from achieving this target after approximately six and a half years on the road with a budget of US$ 20 a day.
There is only one problem: Owing to the novel coronavirus pandemic, he is stuck in Hong Kong. While the 41-year-old waited in town to board a ship to his next stop, Palau’s Pacific archipelago, Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent travel restrictions disrupted his plans.
Yet the Danish resident and representative of goodwill for the Danish Red Cross is eager to make the best of the situation.
He has spent his days walking the many hiking trails in Hong Kong, collaborating with the local Red Cross society, delivering motivational speeches and updating his blog, Once Upon a Saga, where he chronicled his adventures.
When I meet Pedersen for tea at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club he looks remarkably bright-eyed for someone who has been in transit for over six years.
The 41-year-old, who is wearing road-worn Black Salomon X Ultra trekking shoes and a chest-length beard, is visibly itching to run.
“Every day I spend in Hong Kong is another day that I’m not making progress. I’m losing time but trying to make the best of it,” Pedersen said.
“With what’s going on in the world, it will take at least another year to finish. Quitting is a consideration — I’m dead tired (of traveling) and ready to go home. But I’m also stubborn and driven.”
Pedersen, born in Denmark, had an international upbringing where he always had “one leg in Denmark and one leg somewhere else.”
Throughout his youth, his family flitted between Toronto, Vancouver and New Jersey for his father’s work in the textile industry, and during summer and winter holidays visited his mother’s side of the family in Finland.
“My mother is a travel guide, so she speaks several languages and has always been interested in the world,” he added.
“When it comes to a sense for business and structure, getting up early and getting things done, I got that from my father. I got walking around in the forest looking for mushrooms and trolls, thinking outside of the box and being adventurous from my mother.”
As an adult, Pedersen operated as a Royal Life Guard in the Danish Army and then served for 12 years in the shipping and logistics sectors, where he was taken from Libya to Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Greenland and Florida.
The idea of carrying out this particular task – visiting all countries in the world on a non-stop adventure without taking a single flight – came to him fortuitously, through an article his father sent him.
Pedersen states, “I discovered that it’s actually possible to go to every country in the world — I had never thought about it before.”
6 Years away from Home
Pedersen left on 10 October 2013 after 10 months of careful preparation.
First, he would be roaming across Europe, then North America, South America, the Americas, Africa, the Mediterranean, Middle East, Western Europe, Asia, and the far-flung Pacific islands.
He adds, “Since I worked in shipping and logistics, I was used to having multiple things in the air at the same time, finding solutions and making everything more efficient. That helped a lot in a project like this – it could easily take 20 years if you’re not careful.”
According to the UN, there are 195 independent nations in the world but Pedersen is not stopping there. He will have visited 203 countries in total by the end of his voyage.
Pedersen put extremely stringent restrictions on himself: he must live in any country for at least 24 hours and can’t go back home until he’s done visiting all countries in the world.
Pedersen also intended to visit the Red Cross wherever the organization works in order to raise awareness of their local programs.
He has already toured Red Cross communities in 189 countries so far – an achievement Pedersen says was never done before.
He will have to navigate the globe by trains, taxis, buses, ride-shares, ferries and container ships with the convenience of airports off the table.
Pedersen worked closely with companies such as Maersk, Blue Water Shipping, Swire, MSC, Pacific International Lines, Neptune and Columbia to rely heavily on container ships to travel long distances.
“You can’t just show up and get on a container ship; you need to get approvals from the company ahead of time, which takes a lot of time and patience.” says Pedersen.
Pedersen depended in some cases upon his professional contacts. His involvement with the Red Cross has helped in others, while the daunting nature of this mission has led to cement partnerships.
“Coordinating everything takes a lot of time. And even if you do have all your connections planned and everything lined up, you can’t plan for natural disasters or typhoons,” which he says threw off his routine several times.
However, he kept all his promises to himself and his thousands of online followers investing in his trip across all countries in the world.
He says, “There’s nothing stopping this journey from ending, except for me … But I have to ask myself: Do I want to be the person who quit? Or do I want to be able to say that I never quit, not even once. Not when I had malaria. Not when I was losing my girlfriend. Not when my grandmother died. Not when I lost financial backing. Not when I was in pain.”
“By completing this project, I’m telling people you can achieve any objective if you just keep working at it.”
An Impulsive Decision
Pedersen was no longer able to handle it after spending several days jumping through hoops to reach neighboring Gabon.
“People didn’t understand what I was doing. I wanted to give up and just go home, thinking ‘Why the heck am I even doing this? What’s in it for anyone at this point?’ I kind of lost it.”
He made a risky decision to try another crossing in the middle of the night which required a drive of 800 kilometers on dusty dirt roads.
A pair of headlamps flashed ahead at 3 a.m. Three uniformed men marched down the street and raised their arms, demanding that Pedersen and his taxi driver get out of the vehicle.
He recalls, “They were armed to their teeth and drunk out of their minds. That’s just a no-go situation.”
“My heart dropped. This is it. This is the end of my life. If my life ends there, they toss me in the forest, ants and animals will eat me in no time, no one will ever know. I hadn’t told anyone I was going to do this.”
He waited 45 minutes in this state of fear as the men harassed him with their guns, their fingers on triggers. And they let him go for no purpose whatever.
“We just got out of there like bats out of hell.”
The Finish Line
Looking at the sheer distance he has traveled – more than 300,000 KM – over the past 6.5 years, Pedersen has now toured the globe seven times over.
He has passed 194 countries, with just nine to go to maintain a record of reaching all countries in the world: Palau, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives Grand Final.
When he enters Maldives, he’s organizing a party with his fiancé and colleague globetrotters, including Lexi Alford, who’s the youngest person to reach all countries in the world, and Gunnar Garfors, one of the few men to have traveled every country twice.
He cannot wait to see his fiancé, whom he intended to marry in New Zealand before the globe was frozen by the outbreak.
Pedersen states, “My fiancé has been incredibly supportive during this whole process.” She’s been out to visit me 21 times.”
“Actually, there’s a running joke-slash-tradition: I only shave it off when she comes out to see me!” he says of his impressive beard. “I haven’t seen her now for seven months, so that’s why it’s this long.”
According to Pedersen’s prediction, even if he can actually get to Palau this summer, the rest of his journey would take at least another 10 months to a year.
“It would be easy to just go to the airport and fly home. Sometimes I think about it. But at some point, this project stopped being about me, and started being about other people.”
At its heart, he states, this is not a plan for travel, but a project for people. His main goal is to shed some light on people’s innate goodness, on how much we have in general — not our distinctions.
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